Offensive tweeters safer under new prosecution guidelines

Dec 19, 2012

Director of Public Prosecutions says too many court cases could have 'chilling effect' on free speech

NEW LEGAL guidelines that come into force today could see a fall in the number of people prosecuted for sending offensive tweets. Kier Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has issued new rules on social media in an attempt to bring clarity to an increasingly confusing area.
He says he is concerned that a rise in prosecutions could have a "chilling effect on free speech" and that only people who make genuine threats, harass people or breach court orders should end up in court.
According to the new guidelines, "a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest if the communication is swiftly removed, blocked, not intended for a wide audience" and does not go beyond what is "tolerable or acceptable" to society. However, persistent "trolls" to launch sustained attacks on people will face prosecution.
Criminal cases brought against people who post offensive messages have "mushroomed" in recent months, according to The Independent and there have been a number of high-profile arrests.
The case of Paul Chambers, who joked about "blowing up" Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire in 2010, is the most celebrated. He was found guilty of sending a "menacing" tweet but his conviction was finally quashed earlier this year after a campaign backed by several celebrities.
Since then there have been many other arrests. During the Olympics a teenager from Dorset was arrested for insulting diver Tom Daley and in October a 20-year-old was given a community service order for saying soldiers should "die and go to hell".
"[Starmer's] comments will come as a relief to police forces left picking up the pieces after an explosion in online communications," said the Daily Mail.
After the slew of recent cases "there have been concerns that police are increasingly ready to act against people who post offensive material online - in a way that could potentially threaten free speech," explained the Daily Telegraph.
And it is good news for people who go online after a few drinks, according to The Guardian. "Drunken Twitter and Facebook users who post grossly offensive messages online may be less likely to face prosecution if they hit delete and express remorse after they sober up."

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Maybe people should start being a little less offensive when they use social media instead? People have got to realise you can be held liable for what you say online in the same way as you can in the street or elsewhere, I see no reason to make exceptions for social media. People appear to leave their manners at the door far too often on Twitter and Facebook, I regularly see people tweeting horrible abuse to politicians and celebrities and we ought to show that this will not be tolerated. It IS possible to make a point without reverting to nasty personal insults and profanity, maybe people should think how they would feel if they or a member of their family were on the receiving end of this abuse. I have no sympathy for those who are prosecuted.